Training Season is Leta Blake’s debut novel and the first book I’ve read by this author. It features the romance story of Matty Marcus a once Olympic skating hopeful and Rob Lovely a rancher/cowboy with a heart of gold.
Matty’s lack of discipline previously cost him the gold and a back injury completely sidelined him from skating. Now recovered he’s in search of a top coach and a comeback. But in-demand coaches don’t come cheap. A wealthy skating patron steps in to generously contribute to his Olympic dream in exchange for a six-month housesitting stint in rural Montana. This leaves Matty with plenty of free time to train and make enough money to hire the best coach in skating.
Much to his surprise, local residents in small town Montana turn out to be tolerant and friendly, especially his next-door neighbour rancher Rob Lovely, who proves to be much more than a cowboy stereotype. They begin a relationship and Matty learns much from Rob and about himself. With his newfound self-assurance, he drives himself harder to go straight to the top. But competition has a timetable and to achieve his Olympic dream Matty must leave Rob behind to join his new coach in New York City and focus on winning the gold.
Written in the third person and narrated exclusively from Matty’s perspective, the strength of this story is the character of Matty. Witty, charming and totally glam with a flame that burns bright, the character is a refreshing change from the over used alpha male archetype in m/m romance. I enjoyed being in Matty’s head and the writing well-portrays the complexities of this character and how his singular focus on training and his skating comeback impact virtually every aspect of his life, whether his obsession with his weight, his psych and all encompassing need to win, and especially his relationship with Rob. The author also does a good job in depicting the character’s growth throughout the story, and in particular during events that take place in the latter part of the book.
The character of Rob is equally likeable, although somewhat muted mainly because the reader does not have insight into his perspective. He is calm, understanding and patient, and a stabilizing presence in Matty’s life. Rob’s young son and the relationship that he forms with Matty add a layer of texture to both main characters and their relationship. But from the very beginning of their story, the reader is aware that Matty is just passing through and that his relationship with Rob will end. This provides the main source of relationship angst between the main characters and the writing does pull on the reader’s heartstrings when Matty eventually does leave Rob behind.
There were aspects of the story, however, that didn’t work so well for me. First, given the story’s setting – rural Montana – it was somewhat of a stretch to believe that all the town’s people were accepting of homosexuality even with the allowable license of reality versus fantasy within the romance genre. More important though it is the BDSM element of Matty and Rob’s relationship that I felt didn’t fit. As a reader I generally have no issue with BDSM whether within romance, erotica or other fiction, however, I felt that this was an unnecessary element in the depiction of this particular relationship. There was enough relationship angst to explore because of Matty’s almost singular focus on skating and the inevitability of his departure, that the BDSM element actually detracted from relationship growth rather than contribute to it.
Despite these misgivings, I did like the author’s voice and writing style, the main characters and the manner in which their romance unfolds. From the perspective of character development, the author does not take the easy way out with Matty. Without giving too much away, not everything in Matty’s life goes as planned and he comes to a number of difficult realizations about himself and what’s important that he must learn to accept. The author keeps the reader guessing as to the outcome of Matty and Rob’s relationship, which works well as the story’s climax and ending. Overall, Training Season was an enjoyable read.